Venice Film Festival: 13 Must-See Films 2017

Get ready, strap in, put your helmet on. Or in the case of Playlist writers, pack your snacks, remember to hydrate and try and get some sleep because the fall film festival season is about to kick off this week and the madness won’t stop anytime soon. We’ve got Telluride also coming this weekend, and the Toronto International Film Festival lands next week, but it starts as it always does on the Lido on Wednesday with the Venice Film Festival.

Organizers usually mix arty mainstream pictures with foreign heavyweights, with a premium on auteurs, and this year is really no different. In attendance are films by Darren Aronofsky, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Abdellatif Kechiche, Lucecia Martel, Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne and newcomers Kate and Laura Mulleavey. Plus you’ve got veterans like William Friedkin, Errol Morris, Paul Schrader, James Toback and more with new films and TV shows in tow as well. If you’re thinking out prizes, the Golden Lion hasn’t had a U.S. winner since 2010 (Sofia Coppola‘s “Somewhere“). Past winners include Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake“), Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain” and “Lust, Caution“), Zhang Yimou, Mira Nair, Jafar Panahi and perhaps notably, since he’s back in competition, Darren Aronofsky, for “The Wrestler” in 2008. If he takes the prize, he’d tie Lee and Yimou as the only filmmakers that have won the Golden Lion twice.

Awards aside, it’s a stacked line-up, so here’s 13 leading pictures to keep an eye on, but note the honorable mentions as there’s plenty of deeper cuts to watch.

 suburbicon matt damon julianne moore george clooney“Suburbicon”
Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Julianne Moore
Synopsis: When a home invasion interrupts and disturbs a mild-mannered suburban working man with little to lose, a quiet, friendly town is rattled and brought to violence.
What You Need to Know: George Clooney’s success as a director is fairly mixed of late, with promising sleeper hits like “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” overshadowed by clunkers like “Leatherheads” and “The Monuments Men,” his last film. But we have good reason to hope that “Suburbicon” — which encouragingly comes with a screenplay penned by Joel and Ethan Coen, along with Clooney and his regular collaborator, Grant Heslov — is his prickly, acidic return-to-form. A period piece/dark comedy/social commentary on the ugly underbelly of reclusive suburban culture is far from new territory, but with a helluva good cast and its delectably vicious, bloody trailer, we’re pulling for this one to be on the good side of Clooney’s fence.

first reformed paul schrader ethan hawkeFirst Reformed
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles
Synopsis: Tortured by the loss of a son he encouraged to enlist in the armed forces, a church minister and ex-military chaplain struggles with his faith when a pregnant woman and her radical environmentalist husband come to him for counseling.
What You Need To Know: Paul Schrader, the writer behind seminal Martin Scorsese pictures like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and the director behind “Blue Collar,” “American Gigolo,” and “Hardcore,” to name just a few is a huge figure in cinema. You’d be lucky to have even one of those films on your CV. That said, things have been a lot less successful in Schrader’s uber-low-budget direction of late (“The Canyons,” “Dog Eat Dog”). What version of Paul Schrader will turn up this time? It’s really unclear, but the filmmaker at the very least has earned the right for us to show up and find out. 

thethirdmurder_09Third Murder
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose
Synopsis: A defense attorney believes his client — the self-confessed killer of a wealthy industrialist — is the fall guy for a sinister conspiracy.
What You Need To Know: Festival favorite Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Still Walking,” “Nobody Knows”) is known for sensitively drawn humanist dramas about family life, not murder mysteries – clearly a fascinating left turn that should make even the most casual cinephile vaguely aware of his work, to sit up and pay attention. It’s an interesting premise: a career criminal confesses, it looks like an open and shut case, but a canny attorney harbors other ideas which apparently lead to an intricate and complicated moral tale. Sounds utterly fascinating coming from Kore-eda, honestly.